By Pat Foster-Turley
November 11, 2022
Amelia Island abounds with pets traveling with their owners to our paradise. Any walk on the Egans Creek Greenway or visits to the beach these days are sure to include sightings of all kinds of dogs—purebreds, designer dogs like labradoodles, and lots of good old fashioned mutts. These days it is not unusual to see people pushing baby strollers that contain, not babies sometimes, but often dogs. Or even cats. I’ve seen plenty of both being pushed around Fort Clinch State Park and our downtown streets. And there are some different ways of transporting our pets too. One man in our town routinely rides his bike to the Dee Dee Bartels Boat Ramp with his large dog riding in a box mounted on front. Another fellow I ran into at the Palace Saloon a while ago was carrying his large, but short-legged corgi dog in a backpack, like a stuffed burrito. I thought I had seen everything pet-wise here on the island.
But then I met Cinnamon, the pig. Judie Bordnick is staying at a local hotel while she is searching for a home to buy here and she brought her pet pig along for the search. I did a double-take when I was driving by and spotted Judy and Cinnamon out for a stroll and, of course, I had to investigate further. It turns out that Cinnamon is an American mini-pig, a breed combining traits of a variety of other pig species, selected for small size and amiable disposition. Cinnamon is 20 months old, short in stature but heavy already. I’ve read that some don’t stop putting on significant amounts of weight until they are three years old or older and Cinnamon still has a way to go to physical maturity. Judie says that at home Cinnamon sleeps in bed with her, and climbs up a custom-made ramp to get there. She is fully house-broken, and knows quite a lot about residential living, doors, etc., travels around in a recreational vehicle and eats a special diet of “pig pellets” supplemented with large bowls of fresh vegetables and fruit. Cinnamon is well-loved for sure and Judie’s t-shirt proudly proclaims, “Best Pig Mom—Just ask Cinnamon.” The feeling is mutual, and Cinnamon has been certified as an “emotional support pig” by doctors, according to Judie.
Another friend of mine from Marine World/Africa U.S.A., Redwood City, California years ago raised her own pig, a normal domesticated breed that gets huge. Because Marine World was a facility with trained animals of all types—lions, tigers, chimps, elephants, dolphins, sea lions, parrots, you name it—it was natural that Sue would train her pig. Domestic pigs (not mini-pigs) can grow to 700 pounds or more. Marine World provided Sue with a heavy-duty van that could transport her pig’s increasing weight and Sue made the rounds of school assembly programs throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. This pig knew scores of commands and tricks to entertain and educate the public about the intelligence of this animal, most often only known as pork and bacon from inhumane factory farms.
Sadly Sue’s pig never reached its full mature size. She was stricken with cancer and, despite costly and intensive treatment from the University of California/Davis veterinary school, she perished way too soon. Maintaining a huge pig was a definite undertaking, with logistics of weight, and food and excrement a bit over the top for anyone not working at a zoo or farm. Once her pig was gone, Sue refrained from raising another.
Small pet pigs are in vogue these days, with fewer logistical problems than presented with the larger varieties, but still it is difficult to circumvent residential codes against keeping farm animals in some towns. Some towns do recognize individual nuances in different people’s circumstances and may give special exemptions for “emotional support pigs” like Cinnamon. It remains to be seen if Judie and Cinnamon will find a home in Fernandina Beach, but surely they will be welcome in the wider Nassau County where farm animals are a given.
I’ll bet it won’t be long before I start seeing more small pigs, maybe on the Greenway or even in the Palace Saloon. With their large weight, though, I’ll bet I won’t see a pig in a backpack. But who knows? Anything is possible here in Fernandina Beach!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. firstname.lastname@example.org